From Angela Nelson: I’ve been in this position for about a month, but at one day a week in the office, it feels like barely a week. So for my fourth day on the job, we sent three of us from Labor-Religion to the Capitol Takeover action around raising the minimum wage. I had done one action as a seminarian in Chicago, protesting the bankers and foreclosures, but really had no idea what I was getting into at the time, except that it was exciting and felt a bit dangerous. At both of these actions we cried out ‘shame on you!’ Classism, it seems, is the biggest and most stubborn of the walls to come down before we achieve equality.
This time, though, I was at the capitol with my Lutheran pastor collar on. Finally I am ordained and able to speak with some additional authority, though more there on Tuesday just to be visible and hold our signs: “Faith for a Fair NY”. There were plenty of people there with far more authority to speak, anyway.
When Sara and I were spotted by the lead organizers, they asked us to say a few words. Sara spoke about every religion's belief in justice, then I got to lead a brief prayer. I let out a ‘mic check!’ and the people responded with that echo that really gets the speaker’s words out. That was exciting, and heavy with responsibility. To have voice and be heard is to have power, and there was a great intergenerational gathering of power Tuesday.
Families gathered to fight for their dignity, to stand up and shout that they deserved better for the hard physical labor they spent their lives in, to demand they be equally valued by those great American ideals which more and more are becoming just words. It is apparently no longer ‘self-evident that all are created equal.’ These workers were calling us all to be our better selves, calling us to return to those standards on which we started this great American experiment.
Why is raising the minimum wage so contentious? Why are those workers who support our most basic needs, food and service, given less than a living wage? What happened to humanity when we decided money would be the great god to rule us all, and when did people stop seeing one another as people? When did quality and skill get thrown out the window for fast, cheap, and disposable? Where is our honor, our pride, our self-worth, when we throw one another away?
People are angry, hurt, frightened, and worth far more than our ability to instantly get a cheap greasy hamburger. I’m reminded of the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being the body of Christ: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” We are tearing ourselves apart when we devalue one another like this. But Paul also wrote, "If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason stop being part of the body." Because whether or not we want to be connected, to be interdependent, we are.
What strength and love there was among those who gathered at the capitol Tuesday, to share their frustrations and to encourage one another with shouts of ‘¡si se puede!’ This is how we build beloved community, how we live as the body of Christ, when we see and hear one another, when we put our bodies, our time, our energy, into working for a more just society.